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NBA

NBA2K Live Edition: The NBAs sudden scoring explosion

2 weeks in, and the 2018/19 NBA season is already shaping up to be one of the most interesting seasons in recent memory.

We’ve already seen fights and controversy , but the most interesting trend so far is the sudden scoring eruption, and video game stat lines. 130+ point scores are now a regular occurrence, something previously only reserved for insane triple OT thrillers. Teams are averaging 113.4 points per game, the highest output since the early 1970s . This is coming off the back of teams averaging 91 field goal attempts per game (+5 from 2017/18), and another record year for 3 pointers attempted and made.

There are, in my opinion, three main factors this year that have contributed to this unprecedented scoring explosion.

LEAGUE-WIDE INCREASE IN PACE

It’s been a fun start to the year, watching teams fly around the court with blazing speed. The New Orleans Pelicans dropped 149 points (in regulation!) in the first week. They aren’t the only ones either. The San Antonio Spurs are currently ranked last in the league this season in pace, at 98.0. This would have been enough for 12th last season .

Faster pace predictably equals more possessions and more chances to score. With everybody playing like they’re a podcast on 1.3x speed, we’re seeing a statistical explosion that’s going to have significant ramifications on the record books of old.

It’s early on in the season, so it’s difficult to say whether this league wide increase in pace will continue, particularly as the wear and tear of an 82 game season grinds on. Maybe this run-and-gun style is also affecting things on the other end of the court? After their first loss this season, Draymond talked about how “Defence isn’t really an emphasis anymore in this league. So I think you’re seeing it all around with these high scores” .

THE SHOT CLOCK RULE CHANGE

There was a small but significant change to the shot clock rules introduced at the start of the 2018/19 season:

The shot clock will reset to 14 seconds in three scenarios: after an offensive rebound of a missed field goal or free throw that hit the rim; after a loose ball foul is called on the defensive team immediately following a missed field goal or free throw that hit the rim; or after the offensive team gets possession of the ball after it goes out of bounds immediately following a missed field goal or free throw that hit the rim.

Adjusting from a 24 second shot clock down to a 14 second shot clock after an offensive rebound or missed shot has completely disrupted second chance offensive schemes. Teams no longer mill about after grabbing an offensive board, resetting the offence and calling a half-court play. With only less than 60% of the usual time available to make a play, we are seeing more of a fast-break style rather than the slow it down, factory reset of old.

EMPHASIS ON “FREEDOM OF MOVEMENT”

This year, NBA referees are emphasising “freedom of movement” , to clean up some of the extra contact that happens away from the ball and impedes offensive players from cutting and getting open.

We are seeing this play out in the form of foul calls when a player’s freedom of movement is somehow impeded. 2 weeks into the season, free throw makes and attempts have noticeable increased across the board;

Our modern age of gifted and athletic scorers are being given the means to make highlight reel cuts and drives, with the officials on their side watching for contact. Superstars like Harden, Westbrook and Curry have already been able to score at will for years. The new freedom of movement emphasis is symptomatic of our modern NBA’s focus on star power and providing an offensive spectacles for fans, a far cry from the physical grind it out league of old.

WILL THIS KEEP UP?

“The whole dynamic of the game has changed” said DeMar DeRozan, the first year Spur to the San Antonio Express-News . “The rules force you to play at a high speed. Tempo is getting pushed. So many 3s are being shot”.

All signs point to the NBA replacing the NFL as the league of America’s future and globally, basketball is more popular than ever before. Many fans and purists will argue that a grit and grind defence-first slug fest is just as engrossing as a lights out offensive spectacle, but there is a reason the Golden State Warriors of today brought in much higher ratings and new fans to the sport than the Grind house Pistons of the early 2000s.

The changes to player freedom of movement and the shot clock clearly show that Adam Silver and the NBA support the current meta of NBA basketball, for the ratings and new fans that it brings. What will be interesting to monitor is whether this will continue. Teams and coaches are interested in winning games, and if that means making adjustments or slowing down the pace, that’s what will happen.

Over the course of an 82 game season, coaches and teams will adjust to these new changes and pace, players will fatigue and inevitably, injuries will occur. “I’m sure some of this will level off,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said . “How much it’ll level off, I don’t know. It’s just about developing a system, a way of playing, an identity defensively that’s important to you.”

It’s interesting to think about what effect this will have on the record books. As the game speeds up, it causes a rising water level across the board for basketball stats. Not too long ago, the triple double season by Oscar Robertson was considered legendary. Last year, Westbrook did it for the second time and it barely got covered by the media. If this seasons pace keeps up, we may see a lot of records broken and some of my NBA2K MyGM season simulations won’t actually look too far off reality.